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The 40 best songs of 2023 so far (with playlist!)

Photo illustration of six pop musicians
Clockwise from bottom left: Luke Combs, Miley Cyrus, Kali Uchis, Ice Spice, Peso Pluma and Taylor Swift.
(Illustration by Ross May / Los Angeles Times; photos by Terry Wyatt / WireImage; Stefanie Keenan / Getty Images for Daily Front Row; Monica Schipper / Getty Images for Coachella; Kevin Mazur / TAS23 / Getty Images for TAS Rights Management; Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for Coachella; John Shearer / TAS23 / Getty Images for TAS Rights Management)
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As we approach the halfway mark of 2023, a few things have become clear: Regional Mexican music is having a moment, Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” will never go away and Beyoncé and Taylor Swift probably could fill a stadium each every night for the rest of the year. Also, a ton of great songs have come out, many of them likely to make our year-end list in about six months. Until then, here are our picks, in alphabetical order by artist’s name, for the best of the year so far. Scroll to the bottom to find a Spotify playlist of all 40 tracks.

100 gecs, “Hollywood Baby”
A pop-punk riff so stupid it’s brilliant — and so familiar it’s actionable? — Mikael Wood

Agust D, “Haegeum”
While BTS is cooling its heels (or defending its country via mandatory military service), Suga dusted off his hardcore hip-hop alias for a double entendre aimed at both K-pop’s insane internet culture and a fed-up, burned-out, stifled generation of South Korean youth. — August Brown

Amaarae, “Co-Star”
Leo, Sagittarius, Aries, Aquarius, Libra — all horrible in their own, unique ways, if you take it from Amaarae. Over quickening dance rhythms, the rising Ghanaian American singer breathlessly berates her new lover to reveal her star sign, eventually pleading for air as things get steamy. — Kenan Draughorne

Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar, “The Hillbillies”
Lamar shoulders so many rap fans’ expectations of profundity that it can be surprising to find how light on his feet he remains when he just wants to cut loose. — M.W.

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A female rock musician peers out from behind a blue wall
Blondshell.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Blondshell, “Joiner”
“You’ve been running around L.A. with trash / Sleeping in bars with a gun in your bag,” sings Sabrina Teitelbaum, a ’90s-rock nostalgist not so sure about the good old days. — M.W.

Boygenius, “Cool About It”
On an album full of meticulous rhymes and knowing allusions, none hits harder than Julien Baker’s in this finger-picked campfire ditty: “I’m trying to be cool about it / Feeling like an absolute fool about it / Wishing you were kind enough to be cruel about it.” — M.W.

Brandy Clark feat. Brandi Carlile, “Dear Insecurity”
Old Carlile fans will keep waiting for her voice to explode in this stately piano ballad from an album she produced for the seasoned Nashville songwriter. In fact, it’s Clark who takes the song’s emotional climax in her disarmingly intimate tone: “Insecurity, this time feels like love / She’s really sure of me / So please don’t f— this up.” Remember this one when Grammy season rolls around. — M.W.

Luke Combs, “Fast Car”
Tracy Chapman’s late-’80s folk-soul hit has been remade over the last three decades as a bouncy reggae tune (by Wayne Wonder), a mumbly art-rock confession (Xiu Xiu) and a gleaming tropical-house banger (Jonas Blue). Combs, the Carhartt-clad country star, sticks to Chapman’s original arrangement — not to mention her lyric about working at the market as a checkout girl — in a welcome showcase of his muscular singing and her detailed storytelling. — M.W.

Miley Cyrus, “Flowers”
Five months after it came out, Cyrus’ first No. 1 hit since the decade-old “Wrecking Ball” is still hanging around the upper reaches of the Hot 100 — one indication that this I-don’t-need-a-man jam may be destined for “I Will Survive”-style immortality. — M.W.

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Lana Del Rey, “A&W”
“Ask me why I’m like this / Maybe I’m just kinda like this.” — M.W.

Avalon Emerson, “Entombed in Ice”
It has a title worthy of a Metallica single, but this gentle cut from the techno producer’s unexpected indie-pop LP is as light and crisp as a fall cider. — A.B.

A Latin singer in black shorts and black T-shirt performing onstage and exhorting the crowd
Peso Pluma.
(Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for Coachella)

Eslabon Armado x Peso Pluma, “Ella Baila Sola”
California-based Eslabon Armado had no shortage of swooning love songs before landing its first No. 1 on the Billboard Global 200, a fluttering, brassy regional Mexican ballad whose title translates to “She Dances Alone.” The inclusion of burgeoning sensation Peso Pluma gave “Ella Baila Sola” a bonus jolt of star power. — Suzy Exposito

Foo Fighters, “Show Me How”
On an album about the loss of family (Dave Grohl’s mother) and friends so close they might as well be (Foos drummer Taylor Hawkins), this lush yet mournful duet between Grohl and his daughter Violet delivers a terrible pang of comfort. — M.W.

Gel, “Attainable”
An absolutely vicious punch in the solar plexus from one of the most exciting new bands in hardcore. Gel makes great merch too, if you like to show off your leg tats under booty shorts. — A.B.

Grupo Frontera x Bad Bunny, “Un x100to”
The norteño band from Texas teams up with the superstar rapper and singer from Puerto Rico for a lilting cumbia tune about a guy calling an ex with the remaining 1% of power on his phone. — M.W.

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Hardy feat. Jeremy McKinnon, “Radio Song”
The “Being John Malkovich” of Nashville bro-country. — M.W.

Jonas Brothers, “Wings”
Two minutes of splendiferous “Toto IV” cosplay from three showbiz veterans who know how TikTok works. — M.W.

Kelela, “Raven”
The title track from Kelela’s long-awaited comeback LP is a statement of intent. A bent synth chord slinks around for a solid three minutes, building a mood for her lyrics about resilience and rebirth. When the drums finally kick in, it’s a whole different song than you expected — flickering after-hours techno, pitched down into a druggy fog. — A.B.

A male singer-songwriter sits for a photo
Ruston Kelly.
(Alysse Gafkjen)

Ruston Kelly, “The Weakness”
A churning emo-grunge power ballad about figuring out how to be something other than Kacey Musgraves’ ex-husband. — M.W.

Varnish La Piscine, “Ceviche”
The buzzy synths underneath La Piscine’s vocals will be familiar to fans of Tyler, the Creator, but the Swiss artist has crafted his own identity — and not just because he primarily sings in French. If you could bottle up Geneva sunshine and turn it into music, it’d probably sound a lot like Varnish. — K.D.

Le Sserafim, “Eve, Psyche & the Bluebeard’s Wife”
Bad Bunny pulled up late to the Jersey club party, and the K-pop quintet Le Sserafim had already beat him there. It flipped Lyn Collins’ funk classic “Think (About It)” into a delightful bit of ravey chaos, with Korean-language barbs for its hometown music industry: “Smile, be a doll a little more / Conceal all your emotions.” — A.B.

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Lil Durk.
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Lil Durk, “Pelle Coat”
A four-minute therapy session from a man seeking new ways to deal with trauma. — K.D.

Lil Yachty, “Drive Me Crazy!”
The oversaturated groove of “Drive Me Crazy!” is the brightest moment of Yachty’s psychedelic “Let’s Start Here” album. Extra points to singer-songwriter Diana Gordon for meeting the moment with her shimmering chorus. — K.D.

Megan Moroney, “Tennessee Orange”
Great concept for a country song: A proud Georgia girl falls hard enough for a guy from Tennessee that when he takes her to Knoxville one Saturday, she wears “the hat on his dash to the game.” — M.W.

Nation of Language, “Weak in Your Light”
Singer Ian Richard Devaney has credited ’80s British synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as having planted the seed for his band’s inception; the trio swapped its forefathers’ English dusk for a warm Brooklyn dayglow on this tender ballad. — S.E.

Five members of South Korean K-pop group NewJeans stand making hearts with their hands for a photo
NewJeans.
(Anthony Wallace / AFP via Getty Images)

NewJeans, “OMG”
One of the best acts to come out of the post-Blackpink class of girl groups, NewJeans mastered Y2K-era pop/R&B and brought it into the zippy K-pop present. Though still teenagers and not even a year past their July debut, they’re already a new hope for BTS’ label Hybe. — A.B.

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NxWorries, “Daydreaming”
After moonlighting as a ’70s soul singer alongside Bruno Mars in Silk Sonic and launching an all-vinyl DJ alter ego in DJ Pee .Wee, Anderson .Paak has finally reunited with producer Knxwledge for their project NxWorries. “Daydreaming” proves the duo are still at the top of their game seven years after their one and only album thus far. — K.D.

Blk Odyssy, “Odee”
Blk Odyssy creates his own brand of moody R&B in this standout track from his new album, “Diamonds & Freaks.” Perfect for the late nights, Odyssy’s alluring vocals connect whether he’s singing or rapping, especially as he rejoices that the girl on his mind is messing with a misfit. — K.D.

PinkPantheress and Ice Spice, “Boy’s a Liar, Pt. 2”
Hooks on hooks on hooks. — M.W.

A man in black and a woman in a pink top onstage singing into handheld microphones
Rauw Alejandro performs with Rosalía at Coachella in 2023.
(Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for Coachella)

Rosalía and Rauw Alejandro, “Vampiros”
After dropping two albums in 2022 — Rosalía’s Latin Grammy-winning “Motomami” and Alejandro’s intrepid “Saturno” — these romantic and creative partners commemorated their recent engagement with a bite-size EP titled “RR.” Performed live for the first time at this year’s Coachella, the hot-blooded reggaetón gótico of “Vampiros” left a lasting impression. — S.E.

Shakira and Bizarrap, “BZRP Music Sessions Vol. 53”
The Queen of Latin Pop joined forces with Argentina’s premier mixologist to drop a skewering diss track for the ages. Take it from her now-disgraced ex, soccer player Gerard Piqué: Shakira ain’t one to be messed with. — S.E.

Taylor Swift feat. More Lana Del Rey, “Snow on the Beach”
Swift is both a perfectionist songwriter and a pop idol acutely attuned to fan service. So when both Swifties and Lana devotees clamored for more than just a few harmonies in the chorus of “Snow on the Beach,” Swift came through with an even better edit for Del Rey’s misty magic. — A.B.

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SZA, “Kill Bill”
The year’s darkest smash — which dropped in late 2022 but reached the top of the Hot 100 in April — is also its funniest: a boom-bappy revenge fantasy in which the narrator’s bloodlust is matched only by her self-doubt. — M.W.

Don Toliver feat. Justin Bieber and Future, “Private Landing”
Good luck finding another artist who can create the melody Toliver unearths over a one-note beat. — K.D.

Toosii, “Favorite Song”
What’s it like to stand onstage in front of thousands, pouring your heart out to someone you know isn’t in the building? Toosii’s slow-burning “Favorite Song” has your answer. — K.D.

A female singer performs onstage
Kali Uchis.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Kali Uchis, “I Wish You Roses”
Gorgeous psychedelic soul music with equal parts empathy and reverb. — M.W.

Jordan Ward, “FamJam4000”
This alt-R&B sensation has been everywhere this year, first touring with JID and Smino, then embarking on his own solo tour on the heels of his irresistible “Forward” album. Look no further than the modern funk of “FamJam4000” to see why everyone — including Tyler, the Creator — can’t stop raving. — K.D.

Water From Your Eyes, “Barley”
A deadpan, diced-up bit of post-punk unafraid to be absolutely baked while still sneaking more cool musical ideas into one track than more severe acts stuff into a whole album. — A.B.

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Yeat, “No Morë Talk”
The face of rage rap — and his longtime producer Bnyx — connects with twisted synths and equally tormented ad-libs. — K.D.

Zulu, “Where I’m From”
This L.A. hardcore band is the new vanguard of Black heavy music. The soul samples strewn across its LP “A New Tomorrow” allude to big ambitions, but the breakdowns of “Where I’m From” capture a furious power-violence group out for blood and getting it. — A.B.

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